User Experience should be at the heart of Brand Safety

Original column by Thomas Aina, CEO of Impactify, in Strategies Magazine:

Faced with advertising clutter, particularly on mobile, it’s time to find the right balance between advertisers’ visibility and users’ demands. It is in the interest of the brands themselves.

In nearly ten years, the range of available advertising formats has increased tenfold in the digital advertising market. This evolution is partly due to an awareness of the players regarding the dissatisfaction of Internet users confronted with intrusive forms of advertising. But despite the industry’s efforts to improve the advertising experience, too many ads on the site’s pages are still hurting users’ browsing experience and publishers’ revenues.

By offering new ways to reach consumers through automated, hyper-targeted ads, programmatic advertising has transformed the digital advertising market over the past 15 years. It has fully contributed to the increase in publishers’ revenues. On the other hand, there has been a quest for over-performance among some of them, which has resulted in the multiplication of formats. As a direct consequence, performance has declined due to a lack of visibility for formats below the fold.

Despite the emergence of visibility measurement technologies, ad clutter remains and is causing harm to brands. In fact, according to a 2021 study by GWI and WARC, 52% of U.S. consumers surveyed said that overexposure to ads is likely to have a negative impact on their perception of a brand, compared to only 32% for messages appearing next to inappropriate content. This study suggests that consumers value the user experience as much as the context in which the ad is displayed.

Poor user experience on mobile

Yet, ad overexposure is a topic that was taken seriously by the industry a few years ago, with the rise of ad blocking from 2016, adopted by Internet users tired of this over-solicitation. Many means were then put in place to counter this practice and considerably improve the user experience of sites, such as the creation of new native formats or standards (for example, the Coalition for Better Ads) for a better integration of ads within web content.

It is also the case of the development of contextual advertising, which aims to match the ads displayed with the content read by users. Or the publication of best practices guides for publishers or the creation of labels, such as Digital Ad Trust, to evaluate and value the quality of sites committed to responsible practices.

However, if all these initiatives seem to have borne fruit, by reducing the number of intrusive formats used by publisher sites, the fact is that advertising clutter remains on mobile. User’s browsing experience is still too often disrupted by a large number of ads within the content, forcing them to scroll more and more.

Finding the right balance

In the current health crisis, where consumers are spending more time glued to their screens, combining advertising effectiveness and quality of user experience has become essential on mobile. In other words, it is necessary for publishers to meet both advertisers’ need for visibility as well as users’ requirements in terms of navigation and advertising fluidity.

New technologies have recently emerged to meet these market expectations. They offer formats that are permanently visible on the site’s page, the user is constantly exposed to the brand’s message without interrupting his navigation or reading.

Advertising effectiveness in 2021 will therefore consist of doing less but better. This new trend seems to be in line with the transformation of the market (data protection, consent, end of third party cookies…) towards a web that relies on a fair balance between advertising performance for brands, revenues for publishers and respect for the user. It is in this balance that the new generation of ad-tech must be in the long term.